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Thursday, August 23, 2012

"Given to Fly"

Pearl Jam - "Given to Fly" (1997)

Dozens of Pearl Jam songs and this is the only one they decided to include in the 1,001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die.

So let's all admit that yes, it's clearly heavily influenced by the sound of Led Zeppelin's Going to California. Whether you like that or not, the song does have it's own merits. It's got very uplifting lyrics, which lead singer Vedder has described as "a fable" and imagined each line as a line in a children's book with a picture to accompany it. I do enjoy the lyrics, it's a great story, for adults as well as kids. The song was written much the way the band built their freshman triumph 10; with the melody and lyrics coming after the song was complete.

It's not in my top ten favorite Pearl Jam songs, and it's not even my favorite song from the album Yield. It's not a genre changing or even bending song, it's not "important" and I don't really know why the editors chose it. It's a good song, just not their best, but if the other option is nothing by the band, I guess I'll take "Given to Fly"

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

"The Whole of the Moon"

The Waterboys -"The Whole of the Moon" (1985)

It hit number thirty in 1985, then in typical English fashion it got a re-release and hit number three ix years later.

A long lived English, Welsh, Scottish, Irish band active during my elementary, middle and early high school years that I have never even vaguely heard of or heard anything by ever. Their typical genre is a Celtic inspired folk rock, lots of interesting drums, fiddle and acoustic guitars and other atypical stringed instruments. This song however is more straight ahead 80's keyboard driven rock, though it does have some fiddle. The wildly different instrumentation is the trumpet calls back and forth, and then adding electric harpsichord and saxophone we've got a mini-orchestra going on and that's a pretty interesting thing.

The subject of the song has been a question of a lot of speculation, a girlfriend, a writer or musician that was particularly inspiring? Whatever the answer (probably a mix of all of these things according to interviews) it's a sort of thank you, while admitting that the singer still doesn't appreciate and notice everything around him, it is the subject that makes him a better person.

Monday, August 20, 2012

"You Haven't Done Nothin'"

Stevie Wonder - "You Haven't Done Nothin'" (1974)

Released in the summer of 1974 just before it's subject, U.S. president Richard Nixon resigned.

Stevie Wonder was 23 when he wrote, produced and performed almost every instrument on this track. It is short for a funk song, and not really sing-along like a good protest song should be, but it was catchy enough to climb the pop charts. It actually hit number one for one week in November, between Dionne Warwick and Bachman-Turner Overdrive. According to Wikipedia and 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die this is a drum machine, which is an odd choice for Stevie Wonder, who is a very talented drummer. Backing vocals on this track were provided by The Jackson 5, who were still big stars, but a little past their prime. Wonder on the other hand was still going strong and had huge hits in his future. This song owes a lot to 1972's "Superstition" but the added element of a political statement was a new one for Wonder.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

"Viva la Vida"

Coldplay - "Viva la Vida" (2008)

It's been a while since this song ruled the airwaves.

I'd forgotten how repetitive it was. But I think that worked for it. It wasn't droning repetitive, dragging us down into a mire of boredom. It was uplifting and wanted us to stand up. Seriously, listen to it. Even if you can't speak English I bet that people stand up when they hear this song. Not like to attention mind you. But stand up and look around the room. See what their is to do, or dance with, or jump on. It's powerfully enthusiastically positive. Then if you listen to the lyrics you get a jolt. A king loses his kingdom; and when he dies, St. Peter denies him entrance into heaven. And he deserves it. Revolution begins because he is so corrupt and dishonest. But the strings and the chimes! And the rolling drums and the chorus singing in the background! Well yes, as I hear it, think of this as a song in a musical. The song is sung by the king, but it's about the revolution. So what we are hearing is the sounds of revolutionaries celebrating. The church bells are chiming victory, the crowd is singing along with everything, and the rolling drums are tolling for the king, now without a crown, being marched towards the inevitable death that awaits him at the end of the song. It is a jubilant song for everyone, except the singer.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The First Year

Well here it is, it's been a year.
365 total possible days to update, and I got 300 of them. Not bad for an experiment. I really dropped off near the end, but I also got a full time job for the first time in like three years, and started going back to school for the first time in 15 years, so I'm going to give myself a little slack.  For those of you that have enjoyed, or disagreed, or just glanced, thanks. I encourage you to comment if you hear a song you like, or hate, or agree with something I say, or not. Or if you've got a question, or for any reason at all. I'll be doing this for two more years if I can keep up this pace, so there's still plenty of songs still in the book. Thanks for reading!

"Tumbling Dice"

The Rolling Stones "Tumbling Dice" (1972)

A song that is all about the groove.

Joe Strummer of The Clash once claimed that "part of what makes this special, is that the words are a conundrum, like 'Louie, Louie'". Mick Jagger has claimed that the song is ordinary and he doesn't really see what people see in it. The Stones use a backing group of women that kinda give the song a singalong feel. Mick is singing lyrics that are hard to keep up with, but when you hear something you recognize, everyone just sort of jumps in. There's a bit of a brass section, some tinkling piano, a little slide guitar, and world renown saxophone player Bobby Keys adds to that free wheeling "just throw it all in and see what happens" feel like the female backing musicians.  But that freewheeling sound was precise. It sounds like it just happened because the musicians care so much. Engineer Andy Johns suggests that as many as 150 takes were done of the song.

Part of the legendary Exile on Main Street album, and part of the Stones live performances for so long that it appears on three different live compilations, the song is one that is often covered. Linda Ronstadt had a hit with it just five years after the original. Keith Urban and Bon Jovi are known to play it live. I've always like the Johnny Copeland cover on an album called Paint it Blue: Songs of the Rolling Stones. It's not a enlightening cover, but the whole album is great, so I think well of the song. It does have a ripping good guitar solo.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

"The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Any More"

The Walker Brothers - "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Any More" (1966)

From actual brothers who didn't advertise it yesterday, to a trio who weren't related, marketed as brothers today.

This trio did have something in common with Sparks from yesterday. They were a LA group that came to England to find fame. They differ in that instead of playing genre defying originals, all of The Walker Brothers' chart success came on the backs of others, recording songs that hadn't quite been hits for other artists and most of them recently. This might be the closest between original and Walker Brothers cover, taking only seven months between release dates.

Written by Bob Crewe and Bob Gaudio who were hit writing machines for Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons, this song wasn't a big hit for that band, but it charted in the second 100 in the summer of 1965. The original is thin and sparse production wise, acoustic guitar and tambourine to start, then gradually swells to the full string and bells and piano that we would expect from a mid sixties pop act. The Walker Brothers' cover adds some trumpet that as the book points out are distinctly mariachi style. Other than that, they speed it up and that sounds much better for sure. But besides speed and some new trumpet licks, I swear the studio musicians are playing the same charts that were used for the original. The chimes come in at the same time, the piano, the tambourine, it's just a really straight ahead cover. So while I do appreciate the fact that these three guys do have some really nice voices, I just can't see how they justify calling this one of the 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die.